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Mercy Medical Center Preps RFID-Enabled Gift Shop

In an effort to streamline inventory management, purchases, theft reduction and sales promotions, volunteers working at the store will apply EPC Gen 2 tags to items for sale, and read them using RFID-enabled terminals.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 18, 2008Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas will use RFID to help volunteers track and sell products in a gift shop within the Mercy Medical Center in Rogers, Ark. The shop is currently under construction and due to open in March.

While a gift shop is not the first area of a medical center where one might expect to find an RFID system deployed, Ken Trussell, president and CEO of RFID systems integrator Bentonville International Group (BIG), says it could serve as a springboard for employing RFID in other applications at the facility, from asset tracking to drug distribution. The hospital expects the use of RFID within the store to yield a number of benefits, including improved inventory accuracy, theft reduction and improved sales promotion.

BIG will work with the hospital's IT team to implement the gift shop's RFID system by mid-February, in advance of the store's opening. As the store receives goods for sale, staff members will place an Alien Technology EPC Gen 2 UHF Squiggle tag on nearly each item sold in the shop (the exceptions, Trussell says, being low-cost, high-volume goods such as candy, which won't be tagged).

Each tag will come pre-encoded with a unique identifier. The staff will read the tag's ID, using a handheld Motorola EPC Gen 2 RFID interrogator, then select the item's name from a drop-down menu in RFID middleware developed by students from the nearby University of Arkansas. (The products are first divided into categories, each of which has drop-down menus to make it easy for the volunteers to locate a particular item.)

When tagged goods are brought to the cash register for purchase, an RFID antenna built into the sales counter will collect the unique IDs from the items' tags. The RFID middleware will send the item names to the point-of-sale (POS) software, which will total the transaction, based on current prices, and the clerk will then process payment. The POS system will generate a transaction ID, which it will transmit to an RFID database, along with the price paid for each item purchased.

The RFID database will then mark each item as sold in the main database, removing it from inventory. Trussell says an RFID interrogator will be mounted around the store's doorway, linked to an alarm that will alert staffers whenever a tagged item is removed from the shop without being sold.

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